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The rain has stopped us to-day at the end of a dozen miles, yet we hope to see Loch Lomond the day after to-morrow. I will piddle out my information, as Rice says, next winter, at any time when a substitute is wanted for Vingt-un. We bear the fatigue very well: twenty miles a day, in general. A cloud came over us in getting up Skiddaw—I hope to be more lucky in Ben Lomond—and more lucky still in Ben Nevis. What I think you would enjoy is, picking about ruins, sometimes Abbey, sometimes Castle.
Tell my friends I do all I can for them, that is, drink their health in Toddy. Perhaps I may have some lines, by and by, to send you fresh, on your own letter.
Your affectionate friend,
Part of the next letter illustrates, with singular felicity, the peculiar action of a high imagination on the ordinary relations of the sexes. The youthful companions of Keats, who saw how gentle and courteous was his manner to women, and who held the common belief that every poet was essentially sentimental, could not comprehend his frequent avoidance of female society, and the apparent absence of any engrossing passion; the pardonable conceit of conscious genius suggested itself to them as the probable cause of this defective sympathy, and, when he manifested an occasional interest in any one person, it was attributed rather to satisfied vanity than to awakened love. But the careful study of the poetical character at once disproves these superficial interpretations, and the simple statement of his own feelings by such a man as Keats is a valuable addition to our knowledge of the most delicate and wonderful of the works of Nature—a Poet’s heart. For the time was at hand, when one intense affection was about to absorb his entire being, and to hasten, by its very violence, the calamitous extinction against which it struggled in vain.
InverARy, July 18, [1818.] My DEAR BAILEy,
The only day I have had a chance of seeing you when you were last in London I took every advantage of some devil led you out of the way. Now I have written to Reynolds to tell me where you will be in Cumberland—so that I cannot miss you. And here, Bailey, I will say a few words, written in a sane and sober mind, (a very scarce thing with me,) for they may, hereafter, save you a great deal of trouble about me, which you do not deserve, and for which I ought to be bastinadoed. I carry all matters to an extreme ; so that when I have any little vexation, it grows, in five minutes, into a theme for Sophocles. Then, and in that temper, if I write to any friend, I have so little self-possession, that I give him matter for grieving, at the very time, perhaps, when I am laughing at a pun. Your last letter made me blush for the pain I had given you. I know my own disposition so well that I am certain of writing many times hereafter in the same strain to you : now, you know how far to believe in them. You must allow for Imagination. I know I shall not be able to
help it. I am sorry you are grieved at my not continuing my visits to Little Britain. Yet I think I have, as far as a man can do who has books to read and subjects to think upon. For that reason I have been no where else except to Wentworth Place, so nigh at hand. Moreover, I have been too often in a state of health that made it prudent not to hazard the night air. Yet, further, I will confess to you that I cannot enjoy society, small or numerous. I am certain that our fair, are glad I should come for the mere sake of my coming; but 1 am certain I bring with me a vexation they are better without. If I can possibly, at any time, feel my temper coming upon me, I refrain even from a promised visit. I am certain I have not a right feeling towards women—at this moment I am striving to be just to them, but I cannot. Is it because they fall so far beneath my boyish imagination ? When I was a school-boy I thought a fair woman a pure goddess; my mind was a soft nest in which some one of them slept, though she knew it not. I have no right to expect more than their reality. I thought them ethereal, above men. I find them perhaps equal—great by comparison is very small. Insult may be inflicted in more ways than by word or action. One who is tender of being insulted, does not like to think an insult against another. I do not like to think insults in a lady's company. I commit a crime with her which absence would not have known. Is it not extraordinary 2 —when among men, I have no evil thoughts, no malice, no spleen; I feel free to speak or to be silent; I can listen, and from every one I can learn; my hands are in my pockets, I am free from all suspicion, and comfortable. When I am among women, I have evil thoughts, malice, spleen; I cannot speak, or be silent; I am full of suspicions, and therefore listen to nothing; I am in a hurry to be gone. You must be charitable, and put all this perversity to my being disappointed since my boyhood. Yet with such feelings I am happier alone, among crowds of men, by myself, or with a friend or two. With all this, trust me, I have not the least idea that men of different feelings and inclinations are more shortsighted than myself. I never rejoiced more than at my brother's marriage, and shall do so at that of any of my friends. I must absolutely get over this—but how ! the only way is to find the root of the evil, and so cure it, “with backward mutters of dissevering power.” That is a difficult thing; for an obstinate prejudice can seldom be produced but from a gordian complication of feelings, which must take time to unravel, and care to keep unraveled. I could say a good deal about this, but I will leave it, in hopes of better and more worthy dispositions—and, also, content that I am wronging no one, for, after all, I do think better of womankind than to suppose they care whether Mister John Keats, five feet high, likes them or not. You appeared to wish to know my moods on this subject; don't think it a bore, my dear fellow, it shall be my Amen. I should not have consented to myself, these four months, tramping in the Highlands, but that I thought it would give me more experience, rub off more prejudice, use [me] to more hardship, identify finer scenes, load me with grander mountains, and strengthen more my reach in poetry, than would stopping at home among books, even though I should reach Homer. By this time I am comparatively a mountaineer; I have been among wilds and mountains too much to break out much about their grandeur. I have not fed upon oat-cake long enough to be very much attached to it. The first mountains I saw, though not so large as some I have since seen, weighed very solemnly upon me. The effect is wearing away, yet I like them mainly. We have come this evening with a guide—for without was impossible—into the middle of the Isle of Mull, pursuing our cheap journey to Iona, and perhaps Staffa. We would not follow the common and fashionable mode, for the great imposition of expense. We have come over heath, and rock, and river, and bog, to what, in England, would be called a horrid place. Yet it belongs to a shepherd pretty well off. The family speak not a word but Galic, and we have not yet seen their faces for the smoke, which, after visiting every cranny, (not excepting my eyes, very much incommoded for writing,) finds its way out at the door. I am more comfortable than I could have imagined in such a place, and so is Brown. The people are all very kind. We lost our way a little, yesterday; and inquiring at a cottage, a young woman, without a word, threw on her cloak, and walked a mile in a mizzling rain and splashy way to put us right again. I could not have had a greater pleasure in these parts than your mention of my sister. She is very much prisoned for me. I am afraid it will be some time before I can take her to many places I wish. I trust we shall see you ere long in Cumberland—at least I hope I shall, before my visit to America, more than once. I intend to pass a whole year there, if I live to the completion of the three next. My sister's welfare, and the hopes of such a stay in America, will make me observe your advice. I shall be prudent, and more careful of my health than I have been. I hope you will be about paying your first visit to town, after settling when we come into Cumberland. Cumberland, however, will be no distance to me after my present journey. I shall spin to you [in] a minute. I begin to get rather a contempt of distances. I hope you will have a nice convenient room for a library. Now you are so well in health, do keep it up by never missing your dinner, by not reading hard, and by taking proper exercise. You’ll have a horse, I suppose, so you must make a point of sweating him. You say I must study Dante: well, the only books I have with me are those three little volumes. I read that fine passage you mention a few days ago. Your letter followed me from Hampstead to Port Patrick, and thence to Glasgow. You must think me, by this time, a very pretty fellow.
One of the pleasantest bouts we have had was our walk to Burns's Cottage, over the Doon, and past Kirk Alloway. I had determined to write a sonnet in the Cottage. I did ; but it was so wretched I destroyed it: however, in a few days afterwards I wrote some lines cousin-german to the circumstance, which I will transcribe, or rather cross-scribe in the front of this.
Reynolds's illness has made him a new man; he will be stronger than ever: before I left London he was really getting a fat face.
Brown keeps on writing volumes of adventures to Dilke. When we get in of an evening, and I have perhaps taken my rest on a couple of chairs, he affronts my indolence and luxury, by pulling out of his knapsack, first, his paper; secondly, his pens; and lastly, his ink. Now I would not care if he would change a little. I say now, why not, Bailey, take out his pens first sometimes. But I might as well tell a hen to hold up her head before she drinks, instead of afterwards.
Your affectionate friend,
There is a charm in footing slow across a silent plain,
Light heather-bells may tremble then—but they are far away;